EU states late with polluter pays law

Most European countries failed to meet the April 30th deadline to transpose the EU Liability Directive - the first European law based on the 'polluter pays' principle - into national law.

Only Italy, Latvia and Lithuania introduced national legislation requiring land and water polluters and those responsible for damaged habitats, prompting environment commissioner Stavros Dimas to threaten legal action against the 24 states which did not, including Britain.

The directive obliges companies which caused land contamination that “creates a significant risk to human health,” water pollution or damage to habitats to pay for the clean-up and for restoring the habitats to their original state.

Based on the ‘polluter pays principle’ written into the European Community treaty, getting the directive into its present form took some debating – discussions started in the late 1980s and culminated in the Liability Directive in 2004. States were given three years to implement it.

Environment commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “The idea that the polluter must pay is a cornerstone of EU policy and with this legislation we are putting it into practice. The environmental liability directive will provide a strong incentive to prevent damage from happening at all, and enables governments to seek redress from the culprit when serious damage does occur.”

The guilty parties will have to pay for cleaning up contaminated land until it no longer poses a serious health risk, for restoring the environment “to how it was before it was damaged” in the case of habitat damage or water pollution.

With the directive largely ignored throughout the EU despite this week’s deadline, commissioner Dimas threatened legal action: “I am very concerned that only three Member States have transposed this vital legislation so far. If the others do not follow suit very soon the Commission will have to consider starting legal action,” he said.

The UK has so far taken no steps to implement the directive, robbing Britons of the “environmental protection that others already enjoy,” said the Liberal Democrat party’s spokesman for the environment, Chris Huhne:

“The British Government agreed to the European Union’s environmental liability directive as an important step in ensuring that polluters are held to account for major incidents.

“There is no serious sign of us implementing the rules, even though it was meant to be put into UK law by 30th April.”

More details on the Liability Directive can be found here.

Goska Romanowicz

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